Any business knows the importance of keeping its finances and physical assets protected; however, something that doesn’t quite get as much attention as perhaps it should, is protecting intellectual property (IP). But what exactly is intellectual property, and how can a startup manage it effectively?
Here are some of the key things to know about enforcing intellectual property.
Types of Intellectual Property protection methods
Many people aren’t really sure why they’ll sometimes see the copyright symbol, at other times the trademark “TM”, and sometimes no symbol at all on a logo or brand.
That’s because intellectual property law, or IP law for short, can cover a variety of circumstances, and is separated into four main categories.
The first category is copyright. Copyright laws are designed to protect art and creative work, which can include music, live performances, pieces of writing, and other things that fall into the art domain. Depending on the state, what constitutes copyright infringement can vary. (Example: All songs and movies produced by Disney)
Trademarks, on the other hand, don’t deal with creative work, or any of a brand’s actual product. Instead, trademarks regulate the business’s or brand’s identity. You can register a trademark for a logo, company name, slogan, sound mark, and much more. (Example: The Nike ‘swoosh’)
Trade secrets, the third area of IP law, are aspects of the business process that, as the name implies, are secret. This can involve clientele contact information, ways of going about business, secret production techniques, etc. (Example: The original recipe for Coca Cola is considered to be a trade secret)
Lastly, we have patents. Patents function as temporary monopolies granted to companies to get their inventions through the production and manifestation process without somebody else being able to copy that idea and bring it to market earlier or at a much lower price. (Example: The design of ‘Nespresso’ capsules was protected by a patent until it expired and, therefore, allowed other coffee companies to create ‘Nespresso compatible capsules’)
‘But, why should I care?’
Becoming familiar with intellectual property regulations is important for companies of all sizes and stages of development, but it can be especially vital for small and up-and-coming brands.
Unfortunately, predatory companies and copyright infringers exist in every field and will look to prey on new businesses with bright ideas. If those businesses have failed to protect their intellectual property in an effective and timely manner, they may be at risk for IP theft.
Even worse, IP infringement can be very hard to prove, or even unenforceable, depending on whether the brand filed their patents and registered their copyrights, etc.
As a business, it’s crucial to make consulting a patent attorney, one of the most urgent items on the agenda. Make sure to set aside funding to look up relevant patent cost information; an investment today that might save your business a year from now.
Intellectual property enforcement can be just as complex, if not more, as intellectual property registration.
Depending on the country in question, it can be easier or harder to file patents, get copyright protection, and settle IP disputes. Lack of information and education for entrepreneurs can also be a barrier to an effective, inventive marketplace.
In the Arab world, for example, patents seem to cost much more and waiting periods are long. But there, copyrights can serve a similar function and be a much cheaper, more effective option for new businesses. Again, the common thread is that increased knowledge of local IP regulations benefits entrepreneurs who can decide what’s best for their companies.
According to J.D. Houvener, a Houston patent attorney specializing in helping innovators and startups, filing a patent and registering copyrights and trademarks is only the beginning.
“The first thing any entrepreneur should do is protect their valuable intellectual property by using patents, copyrights, and the like. However, what many people don’t realize is how important it is to stay on top of that process. Once you’ve got a patent approved and you see someone else in the market that might be infringing on your business, it’s up to you to use the IP law that’s now on your side in your favor.”
What Houevener is referring to is that much of patent and IP law is not actually covered in common law, so the U.S. or the UAE won’t proactively go after any company engaging in IP theft. Instead, patents and copyrights enable businesses to proactively send cease-and-desist letters and take infringers to court if need be.
As is plain to see, intellectual property law is a complicated business. But it’s one that can make the difference between becoming a successful company and failing to do so.
First, it’s important to understand which parts of IP law apply to your business, and what patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets you should be looking to protect. Then comes the matter of using those to your advantage by checking in with the market and recognizing infringement when it arises. If that’s the case, be sure to consult a patent attorney or a law firm to help you defend your intellectual property.
We hope this article was an informative and helpful read. For more like it, head over to our blog.